Hello, world.

Nothing ever goes like you expect it to.

I expected that I’d be wading through years of rejections before I got one acceptance. Maybe I’d get a few honorable mentions or other certificates from Writers of the Future along the way, but surely it would be years before I even came close to winning.

All of that changed with one phone call, and even that part defied expectations. The day before I received the phone call, I had emailed the contest coordinator to ask about my result, having not heard when everyone on the contest forums did. Of course I missed her call while walking the dog, because that’s how it goes. When I opened up the voicemail and heard, “Hi, this is Joni Labaqui from Writers of the Future…I have good news about the contest,” I turned to look at my husband and said, “Phone calls only mean one thing. But that doesn’t make any sense.” So, with shaking hands, I replayed the voicemail, wrote down the phone number she gave, and dialed.

Well, she picked up, chatted with me for a bit, and then happily told me that I’d been a finalist and was chosen as the third place winner. Thankfully, when I had absolutely no words to describe how hard I was freaking out, she was very kind to me and asked me about my story, congratulated me, and explained how everything was going to work.

For those of you who know Writers of the Future, feel free to skip this paragraph, but for those of you who don’t, here’s what “everything” means. Well, first, it’s prize money, in addition to payment for being printed in their yearly anthology. Then it’s the contest paying for your flights and lodging to go out to Hollywood for a week-long writing workshop led by terrifyingly talented scifi and fantasy writers like David Farland, Tim Powers, and Orson Scott Card. Then, at the end of what is essentially writer bootcamp, they have you fitted for tuxes and dresses (or is it gowns? Clearly I don’t wear enough of them to know the difference), have your hair and makeup professionally done, and send you in a limo to a big gala where everyone accepts their awards and makes a speech. Not to mention the part where you also get interviewed for the WotF podcast. But one of the parts I’m most excited for? One of the winning illustrators from the parallel contest, Illustrators of the Future, illustrates your story and it goes into the anthology along with your story. That is crazy to me. I can’t wait to see what one of these incredibly talented people comes up with! I know this sounds like a lot, but I’m positive I’m forgetting to list at least one thing here.

So, wow. This was completely unexpected. Sure, I’ve been working hard, trying to find and digest all the information I can and writing my butt off, but I never expected to win this contest on my second submission. I’m still half wondering if Joni isn’t going to call me back at any moment to tell me that there’s been a mistake, and either they got the wrong person or I’ve been disqualified or…really anything other than that I won this contest and get to participate in all the insanely cool stuff that comes with it. This will be my first published story as well, and my winning story was the second story I’d submitted…anywhere. At all, in my whole life. I thought I would have a few more years to navigate this whole “how to submit your work properly” thing, but here it is.

I have a lot of people to thank for this, all of whom will also be publicly and lavishly thanked in my acceptance speech as well in April.

First and foremost: my husband. He is an absolute gem who has suffered through reading the early stages of every single one of my stories with nary a complaint. Without him, my WotF winner would have had a whole different ending, but he read the first one and kindly told me that it was terrible and I needed to scrap it. He was right. It was terrible.

Second: Wulf Moon, for his advice and his challenge, and the Writers of the Future forumites, for their advice, kindness, and support. Moon’s Super Secret Bonus Challenge on the forum has been invaluable to many, including myself, and I read the whole thread front to back while I was writing my winner. And I tell you, that was no mean feat. It was about 36 pages long when I started reading it, and at the time of this writing it is up to 61 pages, with over 1,000 comments.

Third: My lovely friend Tiffany, who told me that no, those parts do not need to be in past perfect tense, and yes, I should strongly consider making them not be in past perfect tense. You were right, and you made that story a million times stronger than it would have been otherwise.

In programming, when you learn a new language, the first thing most people do is write a program that simply prints out, “Hello, world.” And writing fiction, although I do it in my native language, is still like learning a new language. Same concepts apply, but the syntax is different. So, this story is it. This is my “Hello, world.”